WARWICK, RI (WPRI) — As John F. Kennedy was training at Newport Naval Station at the start of World War II, a young Texan was also training with the Navy, never imagining his path would cross with JFK during one of the most tragic weekends in American history.
Kennedy would marry at Newport’s Hammersmith Farm, which would later be nicknamed “The Summer White House.” While JFK’s political star was rising, Elmer Boyd, who’s now 87 years old, rose through the ranks of the Dallas Police Department. Boyd recently visited Rhode Island for the reunion of the U.S.S. Bailey, and looked back at that day when JFK’s life ended, and countless conspiracy theories began.
“I was working a murder case,” Boyd said, adding that his job was to guard accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald. In fact, Boyd was always to Oswald’s left, except for one violent moment that was seen live across the country.
Elmer Boyd, on Oswald’s left, in November of 1963.
“It wasn’t a federal case yet,” Boyd said, referring to the hours after the assassination. “But we knew it was a big deal, and we were determined to get the facts.”
Boyd was engaged in the security preparations leading up to the president’s visit, but as it would be today, the Secret Service made the key decisions. So, he couldn’t shed any light on why the president’s limousine was not protected during the motorcade with a specially made plastic bubble top. It would later be reported that the enclosure was not bullet proof, but the decision not to use it would fuel a few conspiracy theories.
Boyd pointed out that a Dallas newspaper ran an extensive article on the morning before the assassination about how the social issues of the era provoked some Texas tension for the president. But Boyd said those concerns were not reflected in the Secret Service briefings in the days and hours before the shots were fired at Kennedy around 12:30 in the afternoon on November 22, 1963.
As Boyd and some 19 other Dallas detectives worked the case, the first shocker came from across town where Boyd’s friend and fellow officer J.D. Tippit was shot to death, with Oswald put in cuffs for that homicide.
“We had at least two real good witnesses to the Tippit shooting,” Boyd said. “They said Oswald shot him across the hood of the car. Then, after he fell, [Oswald} went around and shot him again. And he reloaded his pistol and took off running and that’s when he went to the theater and got caught.”
For detective Boyd, the facts surrounding the Tippit shooting would trump Oswald’s series of denials over the next two days.
“I was assigned to get him in and out of the jail for the police, FBI and Secret Service to talk to him,” Boyd recalled. “And I was there for 70 to 80 percent of the interrogations.”
And during the dozens of times Oswald was walked between the numerous investigators and his cell, Boyd was there, listening to the responses to the media from the former Marine, and Russian defector. One quote stands out to this day.
“He said I hadn’t shot anybody. They’re trying to make a patsy out of me,” Boyd said.
But when asked if he believed Oswald, the tall Texan was short.
“No,” Boyd said. “No, I didn’t.”
He would talk to you about anything, except shooting the president.” — Elmer Boyd, on Lee Harvey Oswald
While Oswald was hammered with questions from local and federal investigators, Boyd listened and tried to make sense of it all. But he said at times, the suspect talked in circles.
“Well, he would talk to you about anything, except shooting the president,” Boyd said. “The rest of the time, he was as cool as he could be. He would give you an answer. It wasn’t always the truth, but he would answer you.”
Boyd’s assignment kept him going around the clock, until about 3:30 in the morning on November 24. “They sent me home,” he said. “To get some rest.”
Jack Ruby fires what would be a fatal shot at accused assassin Oswald.
But like the rest of the nation, he was watching as Oswald was transported from the police station to the county jail. Boyd was on a couch, observing history with his father-in-law.
“There’s a scuffle,” the broadcaster said as order turned to chaos in grainy black and white. “Oswald has been shot. Oswald has been shot.”
Boyd doesn’t recall the emotions he felt watching his colleagues deal with skirmish that followed the gunfire, but he knew who the gunman was.
“I said that looked like old Jack Ruby. And sure enough it was. I knew him. He was a nightclub operator.”
To hear that he was somehow connected to organized crime and a conspiracy to silence Oswald, the self-proclaimed patsy, didn’t make sense to Boyd.
“He wasn’t a big mafia thing like they tried to make him out to be,” Boyd said with a slight grin. “We knew him as just a club owner. He had even made us sandwiches as we investigated the assassination. But we told him we were fine and he gave them to the news people.”
After Oswald was shot to death, Boyd and his partner were assigned to guard Ruby.
“First thing he said, ‘are y’all mad at me?’” Boyd recalled. “[My partner] told him, ‘no Jack. I’m not mad at you, but what you did was a terrible thing.’”
Then, a shocker from the man who was so familiar with police, he would make them a platter of sandwiches.
“He said ‘if you and Mr. Boyd had been with [Oswald], I might not have shot him,’” Boyd said. “I think about that. I just wonder, you know. Was it true? I think Ruby wanted to be a hero. That’s what I think.”
Boyd didn’t talk about the case in public for about 40 years, saying he just wasn’t that kind of guy. But as the theories about various plots grew in number and depth, he said he couldn’t help but noticed that so many others were offering what he knew was false information.
“Every time I’d read the paper, my partner would call and we would say, did you see that? Did you hear that?” Boyd said. “And we’d agree. Well, that just didn’t happen.”
As someone who was dialed in to the investigation for those terrible two days in November of 1963, and for the weeks that followed, Boyd’s opinion grew clear.
“I don’t think it was a conspiracy,” he said. “Now, like I said, I don’t try to change anyone else’s opinion. But I don’t think it was a conspiracy.”
Boyd, who turns 88 in September, is sad to say that he is one of only two Dallas detectives out of the 20 who investigated the assassination, who are still alive.
Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau